Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Reviews for Marvel’s Black Panther have begun to surface online, with critics hailing the film as a beautiful, exciting entry in the near impenetrable mainstream Marvel franchise. But while Black Panther is a Marvel movie unlike any other, it’s still a Marvel movie, an attribute several critics are pointing out.
On Tuesday, Black Panther began receiving praise for upending the Marvel formula as well as the superhero genre as a whole. But Black Panther is still a Marvel movie, with all the positives and negatives that come with it. And several critics are making this point in their reviews. Specifically, the pacing might be a little…off.
Across almost twenty Marvel movies, there are familiar, well-established tropes that to some feel too familiar. These tropes include Big Thing Falling in the Sky (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man: Homecoming), Generic Bad Guy (The Incredible Hulk, Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man), and even Forced Romances (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, again). Reviews for Black Panther indicate the film wisely subverts, or even avoids these tropes, but there’s still one it doesn’t escape entirely: Pacing.
Although some movies in the Marvel canon have a better sense of rhythm and plot progression than others, you can guarantee that any Marvel movie will always have a scene or two that brings things to a screeching halt. You can excise Doctor Strange’s cameo in Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok and not lose anything important, while the prologue to Joss Whedon’s The Avengers at S.H.I.E.L.D. is probably the worst opening to any Marvel movie.
In reviews for Black Panther, critics are divided if the scenes in question are the animated introduction that explains Wakanda’s history, the film’s climax, or the CGI-heavy car chases set in South Korea.
In his review on Uproxx, Mike Ryan, who praises the film as feeling “like the beginning of something new” for Marvel, called out the animated opening. “Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther starts disappointingly, with animation accompanied by narrated exposition to explain the history of Wakanda – and frankly it’s the only part of the movie that doesn’t really work, because this kind of introduction just never works,” Ryan writes.
“Understandably, the filmmakers were in a tough spot, because there’s a lot to explain and it would probably take another 20 minutes to give the audience this information in a more natural way. For anyone who has read the current run of the comic, this is a dense story with a lot of information to relay. But, unfortunately, this gives Black Panther a bit of a lumbering start. The good news: the film more than recovers.”
Rodrigo Penez of The Playlist echoes Ryan, calling the intro “flat and patchy.” But Penez says that when the movie “gets out of its crouching position and goes on a sprint, it’s an engaging ride that rarely lets up.”
Nicholas Barber of BBC also has plenty of praise for Black Panther. But in his review, Barber does single out the South Korean action scenes that, in his words, feel too much like a James Bond movie: “[S]pies mutter to each other via micro-radios, metal suitcases are packed with diamonds, and the hero bumps into an old CIA associate, Everett Ross.”
A little later, in talking about the action scenes, Barber writes:
“Coogler has taken every genre in which black characters are traditionally sidelined, and then, with considerable flair and boldness, he’s combined those genres and put black characters right at their heart. The one genre which he doesn’t quite nail, ironically, is the superhero genre. The choppily-edited, CGI-heavy action set pieces are never very thrilling, and T’Challa is better at standing around looking noble than anything else.”
James Mottram of GamesRadar+, who again gave a positive review, argues that Black Panther “flags” a little and that the final scene could have used a little more time in the editing bay.
“Running 134 minutes, it flags in places,” Mottram writes, “the finale in particular could use some trimming. But throughout, Coogler keeps an ambitious number of balls in the air.”
In a review for Nerdist, podcast host (with Kevin Smith on Fatman on Batman) Marc Bernardin opposes the negativity of the South Korea scenes, calling it the point when the film “leaps to its feet” and “becomes the best Bond movie you’ll ever see.” But one criticism Bernardin does have for Black Panther isn’t on plotting or action scenes, but the central character. While Tony Stark is a narcissist and Steve Rogers is too decent in an undecent world, Bernardin believes Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is just too perfect to be compelling.
“He’s a deadly martial artist, a stalwart friend, well-educated, even-tempered, quick to smile, and, despite all that, he’s humble. Flaws are the grooves, the nocks that add depth. Perfection in fiction, unlike in life, can be boring. I mean, even Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes.”
Black Panther is going to be more than just a movie — it’s going to be an event. Though it’s not the first black superhero movie, it is the first one to portray a futuristic, dignified vision of Africa, free from the trauma of colonialism but still tackling difficult subjects head on (another thing critics have pointed out as a resounding positive). There’s a lot of excitement for this Marvel movie. The reviews indicate as much.
Marvel’s Black Panther will be released on February 16.